Debate time: Why are we so often wrong about the way new products and services will affect our lives? TV, said radioheads, would kill our imaginations. The VCR and the DVD, said movie studios, would kill their business. The ubiquity of computers was supposed to bring us paperless offices.
The latest mistaken prediction was that the internet--a simple way of sending electronic correspondence--would precipitate a sharp decline in snail mail. Of course, just the opposite has happened. Postal markets worldwide are continuing to grow. Germany, one of the largest European mail markets, saw increased overall volume of one billion pieces from 2003 to 2006. New Zealand's mail spike has been directly linked to the internet. In America alone, eBay is responsible for an estimated 1 billion packages a year that wouldn't have been sent when people couldn't see the contents of your attic online; Netflix has been shipping 2 million movies a day since at least 2005; and most of us are now getting a paper bill in the mail we didn't get 20 years ago, the DSL bill.
Which is not to say we're always wrong: the telephone did in fact lead to a decline in personal, handwritten letters, cell phones make us drive like jerks, and the music business is most definitely dying. (That latter fact, however, may have less to do with MP3s and more to do with the fact that most new music, well, sucks.) But we're not putting this entry up so we can pat ourselves on the back for correct predictions--we're interested in what makes us wrong. How can we, as product designers, look past the obvious and truly understand what global trends will really mean to us as end-users?
Sources: 1, 2, 3